On February 10, 2013, a fire broke out in the engine room of Carnival Triumph, taking out several of the ship's systems, including electricity. Passengers on the ship, stuck adrift in the Gulf of Mexico, were forced to go without air-conditioning, some lights, many working toilets and some hot food for five days. Coast Guard inspections of the ship after the fire revealed a leak in a fuel line caused the fire.
According to the lawsuit and Anderson Cooper segment, Carnival was aware Triumph was at risk for fire based on the line's internal investigation following a March 2012 fire onboard Costa Allegra, which revealed an issue with fuel leaks involving flexible hoses. The segment cites internal documents that emerged as part of the ongoing lawsuit. When Carnival investigated further, it identified similar issues on other ships in the company's fleets.
Carnival doesn't dispute the findings regarding the flexible hoses, but according to company spokesman Roger Frizzell and a May 1, 2012 internal Carnival procedures document, it immediately took measures to survey the fleet and make corrections via Safety-of-Life-at-Sea-approved spray guards designed to prevent leaked fuel from causing a fire. Shields were installed across the fleet in January and February 2013. By the time Carnival Triumph set sail February 7, shields had been installed.
Yet the lawsuit makes issue of the fact the fuel line that caused the fire was not shielded. That line, which had been replaced six months before the fire, was located beneath the deck's plates.
Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen explains: "The compliance standards require shielding to be included above the deck plate, but not below the deck plate because it already includes a natural shielding imbedded."
Gulliksen also points out the U.S. Coast Guard inspected Carnival Triumph days before the February 7 sailing and found it to be in compliance with all SOLAS requirements.
"The ship would not be allowed to sail if it were not in compliance with SOLAS requirements," Gulliksen said.
The lawsuit also alleges Carnival willingly put passengers at risk by sailing with diesel engines that were overdue for maintenance and not in compliance with SOLAS.
The claim is based on an internal Carnival document dated December 2011 that Carnival says was a communication from crew intended to provide an update and make sure parts were ordered in a timely fashion; it wasn't an official report on SOLAS compliance.
Carnival does not dispute that its engines were overdue for maintenance but says this did not put them out of compliance with SOLAS or put passengers at risk, as the lawsuit claims.
"The time between overhaul of diesel engines is not regulated by SOLAS. Suggested time between overhaul is set by the manufacturer and adopted by the operator (CCL) in its planned maintenance system," Frizzell said. "Exceeding the manufacturer's suggested time between overhaul does not implicate safety concerns with the engines."
Cruise Critic has reached out to Frank Spagnoletti, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs in the class-action suit, for comment.
The reporter in the CNN piece told Anderson Cooper that all facts aside, Carnival Cruise Lines' ticket contract states that there is "no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food and sanitary and safe living conditions." This language does not, in fact, appear in the line's ticket contract and Gulliksen said the passage that was quoted "was taken entirely out of context from a legal document that Carnival drafted in response to the lawsuit. It in no way illustrates the way we operate our vessels."
Said Frizzell: "The accident in this situation was just that -- an accident. To claim otherwise is simply unfounded and inconsistent with the facts."
--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor